Military analyst Pavel Aksyonov, in the BBC News Russian podcast "What was that?", analyzed different versions of the incident involving Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft over the Sea of Azov. He argues that, based on available photos, the damage area on the empennage of the Ilyushin Il-22M advanced airborne command post aircraft is too large for an air-to-air missile strike. This challenges the version of an attack by an F-16 fighter aircraft. According to Aksyonov, considering the aftermath, it is more likely that the aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile. He highlights that, apart from the Patriot SAM system capable of launching PAC-2 missiles, the Armed Forces of Ukraine possess the long-range S-200 SAM system capable of hitting targets at such distances (this point was also raised by one of our subscribers).
This version has several flaws: firstly, the S-200 SAM system is quite bulky and initially stationary, making it challenging to move to the frontline, even with significant modifications. Secondly, Russian forces have often intercepted S-200 missiles modified for ground target attacks. Based on the latter point, it can be assumed that the Beriev A-50 AEW&C aircraft should have noticed these missiles in advance and had time to react. However, we consider the version of the use of the S-200 SAM system quite plausible, along with the possibility of friendly fire by a Russian S-400 SAM system.
The suggestion that the A-50 aircraft was shot down by the AFU was hinted at by Ukrainian military observer Kostiantyn Mashovets: "Ukraine has ‘some kind of cunning weapon’ (let us put it this way), capable of hitting air targets such as AWACS aircraft at distances of up to 150-160 km."
In addition, analysts continue to guess how many Beriev A-50 and A-50U AEW&C aircraft remain in service with the Russian Aerospace Forces. While reference books indicate there should be eight of them, not every aircraft may be in working order.
The Defense Minister of Estonia was quoted in the article as saying that Russian production will reach 4,500,000 artillery shells this year. We doubt that this is a realistic number: analysts’ estimates vary between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 new shells manufactured in Russia per year, with another 750,000 refurbished shells, which is a far cry from the total indicated by the Estonian minister. Meanwhile, the USA and EU are expected by 2025 to manufacture 1,200,000 and 1,250,000 artillery shells of 155mm caliber per year, respectively.
The article also suggests that the manufacturers could relax not only storage but also accuracy requirements for the newly-produced ammunition. Indeed, the claimed accuracy cannot be achieved under current conditions anyway because artillery systems are forced to operate with worn barrels, which are not produced in sufficient quantities for timely replacements.
Video footage has emerged showing an AFU Bradley IFV firing at a Russian T-90M Proryv tank from a previously unseen angle. Military analyst Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, noted that despite the tank being hit by over twenty 25mm rounds, the entire crew survived and managed to evacuate. Had the tank been another IFV, the outcome would undoubtedly have been very different. It is worth noting that such an intense rate of fire likely damaged most of the tank’s external equipment, essentially rendering it blind. Additionally, it is probable that a significant portion of the crew, including the driver, suffered concussions, the likely cause of the tank’s erratic driving. A Ukrainian commentator, likely affiliated with the AFU, claimed on X that the tank’s driver was later captured.
On Jan. 18, a Ukrainian UAV was able to reach Saint Petersburg. It fell on the territory of the city’s oil terminal. It turned out to be a small airplane type UAV carrying a 3 kg warhead. Such a small charge was unlikely to cause significant damage unless it struck a large fuel tank. Ukraine's Minister for Strategic Industries Oleksandr Kamyshin stated that the UAV had been manufactured in Ukraine and flew 1,250 km to reach its target, while the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper, citing sources in the intelligence services, asserted that the operation was conducted by the Main Intelligence Directorate.
In our first sitrep of 2024, we reported on evidence of Russian Kh-101 cruise missiles using countermeasures. Photographs of a missile that fell on Vinnytsia on Dec. 26 show that it was equipped with either flares or dipole reflectors. New images released on Jan. 19 show fallen missiles equipped with these countermeasures, along with pictures of released decoy flares made of foil strips, creating a cloud of reflective surfaces meant to confuse missile defenses. Vadym Skibitskyi, Deputy Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine, confirmed this development, stating that unlike in 2022, Russia now employs Kh-101 missiles equipped with "active electronic warfare systems, active protection, thermal traps, and so on."
In his conversation with US President Joe Baiden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed that it is necessary to continue providing military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Scholz stated that in 2024, Germany will deliver military aid worth over €7 billion to Ukraine. The details that emerged of the new German military aid package include:
- ammunition for Leopard 1 tanks;
- 8 armored personnel carriers;
- 30 Marder infantry fighting vehicles and 15 Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (the date of their delivery is not confirmed yet, and they are listed in a separate section of the list titled "Military support to Ukraine in planning/in execution");
- 25 RQ-35 HEIDRUN reconnaissance drones;
- 50 SatCom terminals;
- 5 border protection vehicles;
- 16 Zetros tankers;
- 3 other vehicles;
- material for explosive ordnance disposal;
- combat helmets and LED lamps.
Media reports indicate that the Bundestag voted against the resolution on the transfer of Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missiles to Ukraine, with 485 votes against, 178 in favor and 3 abstentions. As clarified by The Insider [independent Russian investigative media outlet], members of all three coalition factions expressed support for transferring the missiles but opposed the non-binding resolution proposed by the opposition.
Sébastien Lecornu, Minister of the Armed Forces of France, has announced that France will deliver 50 AASM Hammer hybrid bombs to Ukraine per month until the end of 2024. In addition to wings, these bombs can also feature a solid-fuel engine, further extending their flight range—depending on the modification, the range can be 60, 70 or even 200 km. These bombs also vary in their warhead size: 125, 250, 500 and 1000 kg. The key question remains which aircraft will deploy these bombs; they may be adapted for Ukrainian Soviet-made aircraft such as Sukhoi Su-24 all-weather tactical bombers.
Lecornu has also revealed that in the coming weeks, France will transfer 6 Caesar self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, with plans to produce and deliver 72 more by the end of the year. According to Lecornu, Ukraine currently has 49 Caesar self-propelled howitzers. In 2024, France has the capacity to produce 78 Caesar SPHs, with plans to deliver 12 new SPHs to Ukraine using its own funding. Additionally, Ukraine has independently purchased 6 Caesar cannons using its own funds. The production of the remaining 60 SPHs is contingent on securing financing from European partners.
Cédric Perrin, the head of the French Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces, stated that France currently produces 20 thousand 155mm rounds per year. These production volumes are considered modest, and at the current rate of use, this amount will only last Ukraine for a few days. Separately, Lecornu mentioned that by the end of January 2024, France will be able to deliver 3,000 shells per month to Ukraine.
It has been reported that nearly 200 Ukrainian tank crew members have successfully completed training on Leopard 2A4 tanks in Canada.
In April 2023, it was reported that Denmark and the Netherlands planned to purchase 14 Leopard 2A4 tanks from an unnamed country and, after major repairs, send them to Ukraine. Almost a year later, Kajsa Ollongren, the Minister of Defense of the Netherlands, announced that the first two tanks had been repaired and were ready to be transferred to the AFU.
US President Joe Biden met with the leaders from both chambers of Congress, including both Democrats and Republicans, to discuss the issue of immigration. The Wall Street Journal ran an article titled "Biden Accedes to Tougher Immigration Policy to Deflect Criticism, Secure Ukraine Aid," but it only contained the White House's statement that Biden was encouraged by the results achieved in negotiations with the Republicans. Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, told the press that they had discussed the necessary actions to resolve the problem. Further statements have not been released at this time.
Various countries are studying Russia’s experience in the war against Ukraine, particularly focusing on crossing fortification installations. A video from the Sandhills Future Breaching Experiment project at Fort Liberty in North Carolina has been released, showcasing the US Army testing an unmanned dozer moving concrete pyramids. As previously mentioned, by the books, these pyramids should be either embedded in the ground or attached to an underground concrete foundation, making it difficult for a bulldozer to displace them.
In response to journalists’ questions about the effectiveness of the strikes on Yemeni territory, President Biden stated that they would not stop the Houthis, and they would continue launching missile attacks. As we anticipated, launching missile strikes on missile launching sites may persist, but without a ground operation, preventing Houthis from attacking ships in the Red Sea seems challenging. However, no country is willing to deploy its forces to Yemen.
Next week, the largest NATO exercises in the last 35 years will begin and run through May, involving the participation of 90,000 troops. Given the current global situation, all countries have realized the necessity to restore their armed forces and update manuals, weaponry and ammunition. We anticipate a significant flow of messages from Russian propaganda about threats from the North Atlantic Alliance.
The Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer, stated that a war with Russia could begin in the next 20 years, so preparations should be made for it. We believe that a "heated" confrontation between Russia and NATO is possible only if, after the end of the current war, Russia has several years to rebuild its army, accumulate new stocks of ammunition and train new soldiers. There is no doubt that NATO surpasses Russia in every aspect. However, the war between Russia and Ukraine has exposed the weaknesses of European countries: even with available weapons, their supplies are difficult to coordinate and proceed slowly. Additionally, shortages persist and some projectiles turn out to be incompatible with existing guns, despite being of the appropriate caliber.
As of now, there are no reports indicating that the current war has impacted the training methods of military personnel in any significant way—only a few comments from the Ukrainian military regarding new instructions have surfaced. It is understood, however, that there is a need to rebuild and expand defense production, as well as to determine which types of weapons are the most promising (such as HIMARS MLRS, GMLRS rockets, and various types of drones). At the same time, no new techniques for breaching minefields—which continue to hinder both sides in the ongoing conflict—have been introduced. This old technology still proves effective against even the most modern systems.
On Jan. 18, the Russian Ministry of Defense released a video featuring Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defense, visiting a military-industrial complex enterprise in the Moscow region. During the visit, when Shoigu was presented with the new cruise missile "Izdeliye 720" and the Kh-58 anti-radiation missile, he ordered to increase the latter's range. While we cannot confirm whether their actual technical characteristics match the officially stated ones, we have observed that the MoD's reports consistently cast developments in a positive light, even if they may not fully reflect reality.